On the Expedition
Dig into the archaeology of Colorado’s Basketmaker communities to help uncover clues about the Neolithic Revolution and these ancient peoples.
Around the globe, humans made a critical transition from hunting and gathering to farming and agriculture. This radical change in lifestyle set in motion a number of transformations in human population size, social organization, and human-environmental relationships. Despite its importance, the reasons for this transition are poorly understood because of gaps in archaeological knowledge. The Mesa Verde region, located in Southwest Colorado, is ideal for studying this critical transition which occurred in this area during the Basketmaker III period (A.D. 500-750). The Pueblo people, who still live in the U.S. Southwest today, are the direct descendants of the Basketmakers; this means it may be possible to trace the origins of ancient Basketmaker III communities to contemporary Pueblo societies.
You’ll join a group of archaeologists at Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, located in Cortez, Colorado, to take part in hands-on archaeological field work by excavating the largest known Basketmaker III community in the region. Most days, you’ll arrive at the dig immediately after breakfast, and spend much of the day working with hand trowels, brooms, buckets, and screens to remove and identify artifacts and other archaeological data. Your work may focus on the excavation of Basketmaker III period homes, middens (trash deposits), and the great kiva (the central structure that served as a gathering place for the community). In addition to excavation, you may help with remote sensing surveys which identify likely areas of archaeological significance. Remote sensing tools are used to identify features that may have been overlooked by standard survey techniques.
Back at the laboratory, you’ll assist with washing, sorting, cataloging, and labeling artifacts such as pottery, lithics (stone tools), ground stone, faunal bone, and other forms of material culture. In the evenings, you’ll attend programs, including an introduction to Crow Canyon’s research, presentations by staff archaeologists, and guest lecturers on current research in Southwestern archaeology.
When you’re not excavating doing lab work, or learning about the archaeology of the Mesa Verde region, you’ll be free to enjoy the beauty of the “Four Corners” of the American Southwest. You’ll explore local restaurants and museums, or explore some of the iconic sites of the area including Hovenweep and the Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments. Crow Canyon is also within a short distance of Mesa Verde National Park. Established as the Nation’s first archaeological park in 1906, Mesa Verde National Park is home to 13th-century ancestral Pueblo cliff dwellings including Cliff Palace and Balcony House.
Meals and Accommodations
You will stay in shared accommodations in Navajo-style log cabins (called hogans) equipped with electricity and wireless internet access. Each hogan houses up to four people in a single room; shower and bathroom facilities are in a separate building readily accessible to all hogans. All facilities are fully heated, and the classrooms are air-conditioned.
Breakfast and dinner are prepared by Crow Canyon’s kitchen staff. Meals will be served “cafeteria-style” in the lodge with communal tables. Lunches will be “picnic-style” and will be served in the field. Volunteers will make their own sandwiches (you may choose from various breads, meats, vegetables, and cheeses as well as peanut butter and jelly) and can choose from sides including chips, fruit, and a variety of snacks. The research staff and team volunteers will eat together.
Volunteers will be treated to delectable, healthy meals that feature hearty entrees and fresh fruits and vegetables. A salad bar is available. Crow Canyon’s kitchen staff will accommodate special diets including lactose intolerance, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diets upon request.
About the Research Area
The project area is situated in the beautiful high desert of Southwest Colorado; it offers spectacular views of Mesa Verde and the Sleeping Ute Mountains, the La Plata Mountains, the Abajo Mountains, and Shiprock, New Mexico. It’s located between mountains and canyons, providing access to a wide array of landscapes.
Located near the town of Cortez, you’ll be within easy reach of more than 20 restaurants, as well as parks, museums, and wineries. The Cortez Cultural Center is a museum and gathering place; if you are in town during the summer months you’ll want to experience Native American dances and lecture opportunities available each night of the week. The climate is typically dry and sunny, with warm days and cooler nights. Recreational opportunities include hiking, kayaking, boating, fishing, rock climbing, bird watching, and biking.